Following my visit to IFSEC I spent the day at Orgcon 2019, organised by the Open Rights group. Meeting was held at the modest premises of the Friends Meeting House in Euston Road. Contrast this with the enormous IFSEC exhibition held in the Excel Centre in June. I’ve already written about IFSEC and recall how Tony Porter the information Commissioner ridiculed the efforts of the likes of Open Rights Group in the opening keynote session (during his question and answer session).
The transcript of Porter’s speech can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/surveillance-camera-commissioners-ifsec-speech.
Friends Meeting House, always welcoming and non-judgmental hosted the day’s random assortment of Decent and honourable delegates. The purpose of the day was to highlight it already present danger of how we are manipulated and feed into an immense electronic trap by the process of the emergence has sprung up so fast we did not notice. It seems to run in parallel to the immense challenge of global warming perhaps the collapse of ecosystem is a bigger Challenge and priority beyond the first world problems of surveillance. Nonetheless my interest in the subject has brought me to open rights group meetings in the past, for this is not my first visit to such an event.
The delegates include lawyers and journalists, software developers, serious influencers.
This small audience attending Orgcon gives me hope, the attendees not motivated by shareholder value or perhaps their next annual review, in order to scramble up some corporate greasy pole… but to address some of the pressing and ethical/legal questions relating to our own lives and future, all in some way affected by techno-surveillance. Our legal system has struggled to keep up with the new landscapes opened up by emergence and the synergy brought upon us by advances in technology.
A live keynote address by Edward Snowden was given over a glitchy Skype connection. Snowden patiently negotiated the breaks in communication during his address. We all started to wonder if someone (watching us watching him) was fiddling with our delicate web connection, as if to interrupt his flow. Snowden described how he would go into work in the morning and at his desk could summon up anyone’s email trail or target ongoing conversations across the globe, all truly impressive and rather terrifying. He reminded us how journalists, politically exposed, dissident minorities and immigrants are all being targeted – justified under the wafer-thin reasoning that ‘we’ need to be ‘protected’. Snowden complimented the Open Rights Group in their campaigning and having organised the event, finally blessing us with what sounded like a curse, saying it was now up to us to continue his work and fight on. He said we would lose it again and again but believed in day ultimate decency of humankind saying that we would win in the end.
Jack Poulson spoke on his serial resignations from unethical Silicon Valley organisations, including Google. Poulson resigned over the Dragonfly project (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-46357008). He now works on facilitating workers conducting unethical work in their organisations to change from the inside. He cited the Signals Network as one such organisation working in the area: https://thesignalsnetwork.org/press-release/
The unfolding story of Cambridge Analytica and its connection with micro-targeting individuals based on their preferences and likes of Facebook is just a tip of the iceberg. For example; influencing the election of Narendra Modi in India, the Brexit referendum in the UK, the rise of the Five Star movement in Italy, the Brazilian election of Pedro Sanchéz and Trump campaign in the US. All these used similar techniques psychogeographic profiling of individuals voting intentions – political microtargeting using big data and AI. Human rights lawyer Ravi Naik presented an excellent critique on the Cambridge Analytica affair and how this forms part of a far wider weaponised data machine, including examples of election ‘tampering’ given above. Naik worked to prove that the profiling of data without the individual’s knowledge or consent was unlawful. Naik successfully prosecuted CA via the Information Commissioner’s Office earlier this year on these grounds. The ICO has now recognised the context of this aspect of law-breaking by online companies following the case and by the work of the ORG.
Other discussions follow, Jennifer Robinson barrister in conversion with David Kaye, UN rapporteur and author of “Speech Police: the Global Struggle to Govern the Internet”. Kaye gave an illustration of how the Mexican government to put journalists and opposition figures and their families under surveillance using malware, discovered by Citizen Lab (https://citizenlab.ca/). The malware was created by the NSO group as Pegasus malware (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pegasus_(spyware))in Israel (https://www.nsogroup.com/). The malware was used on Mexican citizens by the state and without their knowledge, consent or judicial permission.
Many more stories emerge during the day and perhaps too numerous to mention. This impressed upon me the need for organisations like Open Rights group to shed a light on these issues and facilitate countermeasures.
The day I spent contrasted greatly with the feeding festival held by IFSEC at the Excel Centre in the previous month. As part of the thoughts raised by this contrast, I decide to assemble a little video speculating on the idea: what if IFSEC shared their venue with Open Rights Group?
Proceedings of Orgcon 2019 on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjLwFgVRizg